Saturday, May 18, 2013

Run, Mince, Run

"Move your bloomin' arse!" screamed the old man with the flat cap. He wore a grey suit jacket with black dress pants and pressed against his eyes he held a pair of binoculars. "Come on Hutchinson, come on! Break, break!" 

The rhythmic sound of hooves hitting the soft mud grew louder and louder as the clump of horses raced forward towards the finish line. Their speed caught the wind as they neared the end, and before the flat-cap man could scream another syllable, they had passed the finish line. 

"Who won!?" He threw his binoculars down against his chest.

On the big screen, the number 1 flashed. First Mohican had won the race! 

"Bloody horse," the man mumbled as he stumbled away towards the Totepool, counting the money in his pocket. 

And so ended the first race of the day. With a total of 7 races, there was a pattern to the course of events: crowds piled near the betting booths and the bars, and when the 2 minute races would start, they filed up into the stands and pressed against the railings, then when the race ended, they would crowd back towards the betting booths and bars. Over and over again, pockets emptied and pockets filled.

But betting isn't everything to the races, not for me at leastmy money stayed safely in my wallet. The races are an elegant, high-class social event where the women dress in heels and hats and the men wear suit jackets and slacks. Just like any other sport, it's an enjoyable game to watch. In warm-ups, the horses look rather awkward, prancing around with high hooves and flailing their necks, and the jockeys squat on top with their butts wagging high in the air. But their speed is fantastic. When the horses zoom past the spectators stands, it's like they're flying, their hooves barely touching the groundthey just zip by in a stream color, thumping through the mud. 

The fourth race was the biggest with a winning prize of 106,650 poundsThe Duke of York, it was called. This was the one race I bet on. With friends, of course. Over desert. The deal was, whoever lost the race had to make desert for the others, creating 3 winners and one loser. 

My horse: Mince.

Between the four of us, none of our horses won, but Liza's horse was injured and fell in last place, never finishing the race. Though my horse still didn't win the race, he did well enough to win me a desert! Thanks Mince!

Though a perfectly wonderful day at the races, it had its struggles. I had made the terrible choice of wearing a flowy lace dress on a cold, windy day with a Velcro-flap raincoat. Let me tell you, lace and Velcro is a bad combination, especially on a windy day. I can laugh about it now, but it wont happen again. 

With scones and Yorkshire tea in the morning, the horse races in the afternoon, and rain, rain, rain, it was the perfect British day. And I still have money in my pocket, mostly.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Whales n' Wales

Like whales, we traveled through the wet streets of Llandudno at our own sweet and sluggish pace, enjoying the tiny Welsh city on our own watch. Every other weekend trip we've zipped through the cities, knocking out every museum and tour in only 2 days, but not this weekend. This time we slowed our step, gliding along like the giants of the sea, free and wild.

Sadly, we didn't actually see any whales during our stay in Wales, but I sure felt like one. Having only slept 3 hours the night before and waking up at the crack of dawn to catch our 6:55 a.m. train, I was a bit more than sluggish. My eyes were heavy as if they were 2 sizes too big and my legs were jello, unable to control my stepsI felt a bit like an awkward giant. But at least our schedule in Wales was optional. The trip was more of a retreat, a peaceful final hurrah to finish our busy semester; so many of us spent hours lazing around in our hostel lounge sprawled out on the red-leather couches, laughing with each other as the rain spat outside. There was nothing we needed more than a relaxing weekend.

We did push on, however, and saw the city while we had the chance. Because Wales is a part of the United Kingdom, the cross over the boarder was not a big event; in fact, the only way we knew we were in Wales was by the names of the cities our train rode through.


Good luck pronouncing those. Llandudno, our final destination, is actually pronounced, "clan-dood-no." 

Llandudno is a beautiful city located on a peninsula at the topmost part of Wales and tucked away in the Llandudno and Ormes Bay of the Irish Sea. The streets are lined with pastel and cream-colored buildings, giving the city a light, seaside feel, and all around town were wooden statues of Alice in Wonderland characters, as the "real" Alice once holidayed in this little Welsh city. Big colorful light bulbs strung across the main streets and old fashioned hotels sat on every corner. Bordering one side of the town was the Great Orme, a limestone and copper ore cliff, where a street of quaint, cream houses crawled up the side like a snake winding in the crevices. Stretching all along the coast, the buildings curled with the geography of the beach, lining the perimeter with pretty white buildings and fancy iron railings. 

Though a beautiful city, the physical geography of the area was the winner I fell in love with. The first day we hiked up the Great Orme and looked out over the rolling hills stretching for milesin the distance we could see England's Lake Districtand far out in the sea there was a field of windmills blowing in the wind. The wind at the top was wicked, but when the sun shone, it wasn't too cold. Sadly, the sun wasn't out for too long and every other hour the clouds would spit rain at us. Still, I was happiest just sitting on a rock, looking out at the indescribably stunning views. No camera can capture the full affect. 

The last day in Wales, we hopped on a quick train to the nearby city of Comry where a giant castle towered over the city. The city reminded me a bit of York, as it was walled-in with narrow streets and stone bars (gates), but again, the views outside of the city made my heart glow. In Comry we took a hike way up to the top of a cliff, and on our walk towards the trail, we wandered through a small neighborhood with steep streets, blooming trees, and low-hanging branches. For a while I felt like I was in Michigan. It felt homey and comfortable and if it was up to me, I would have moved right in with that man gardening behind his white picket fence. The hike was long and intense, but mostly because of the killer winds. With gusts of 30 mph, we struggled sometimes to stand, but the views were well worth the effort. From the top we could see Llandudno in the distance, the Great Orme, the field of windmills, the Lake District, and miles after miles of pastured land, rolling far off into the hazy horizon. 

By the end of the trip, I was well relaxed and caught up on sleep; my legs were only jello because of the extensive hiking rather than from the sleep-deprived exhaustion. It was our final hurrah, and a sweet goodbye for many. I'm going to miss our group of 25at first we were overwhelmingly large, but now I wouldn't have it any other waybut most of all, I'm going to miss the natural beautiful of this great kingdom.